Early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
By Russell Johnson, President and CEO
The Covid-19 pandemic caught the world by surprise. While epidemiologists created scenarios of how a pandemic might impact local communities, the reality of its length is just starting to sink in. Many of us are sheltering in place and practicing social distancing.
Yet the essential business workforce, including staff employed by local nonprofits, continues to support our day-to-day needs and those of our most vulnerable neighbors. Nonprofits serve a vital role in our community, and yet they themselves are acutely vulnerable during this public health crisis.
Over the past two weeks I spent most of my time learning about how nonprofits in the social safety net are faring- their unmet needs, their business challenges, how they are serving clients and keeping staff healthy. I’ve also been virtually meeting with other philanthropic partners to learn about what our sector can do to support communities and nonprofits. HealthSpark is one of over 400 foundations signing on to the Council of Foundation’s Pledge, a call to action derived from what we’re learning about philanthropic investment during COVID-19.
So, what am I learning thus far?
- There is going to be a “new normal” and not every organization is likely to survive and become part of that new world. Nonprofits are rapidly drawing down cash reserves and the customary strategies that created those reserves cannot be re-started in a timely manner, if ever. Across the board, I am hearing about the near collapse of traditional sources of fundraising such as events. Some organizations that heavily rely upon volunteers have lost those people for a variety of reasons including social distancing concerns and lack of transportation.
- Staff are hurting as much as the people they serve. Those fortunate enough to have retained their jobs are experiencing new realities about the importance of a resilient safety net system. More broadly, as more members of the population turn to the safety net for the first time, we’re seeing greater public awareness of the value of the safety net system as well as its own inefficiencies and challenges.
- It is more important than ever to invest heavily in reducing systemic inequities. As the crisis worsens, we’re going to see historically marginalized communities- particularly communities of color- hardest hit. The sudden collapse of our economy will exacerbate the historic lack of protections for housing, healthcare, and basic needs that unequally impact poor people, and people of color in particular. As we look to provide support in this crisis, and as we look to build back in the future, we must center investments and strategies that address these inequities head on.
HealthSpark Foundation has the privilege of partnering with nonprofit organizations that have been seeking new solutions to achieving financial resiliency. This crisis dramatically underscores the importance of this work. Soon, we will embark on recovery efforts. It’s not too early to start thinking critically about what each organization has experienced to help inform our recovery- both for the people who need the social safety net, and for the social safety net itself.